Confinement in French and Francophone Literature and Film

Confinement in French and Francophone Literature and Film
7 September 2020, 4.00pm - 5.30pm

Being locked-down in and with Michel Houellebecq

Speaker: Claire Lozier (Leeds)

In this seminar, I will look at an unexplored theme running through Michel Houellebecq’s novels and films: namely being locked down or held captive. From La Possibilité d’une île (2005) – in which neo-humans live alone in isolated cells from where one of them writes his story – to L’Enlèvement de Michel Houellebecq (dir. Guillaume Nicloux, 2014) – where Houellebecq plays his own role and whose character is kidnapped and subsequently held captive by a group of apprentice crooks he ends up befriending – confinement is a recurring feature in the work of France’s iconoclastic best-selling author. I will explore the role confinement plays in the writer’s œuvre and read it in light of the open letter he published on the topic on 4th May 2020.

Claire Lozier is Lecturer in French at the University of Leeds and an Associate Researcher at the ‘Centre Prospéro: Image, Langage, Connaissance’ at the University Saint-Louis Brussels. Her research interests are in French cinema, art, literature, literary theory, gender theory and, broadly speaking, the connections between aesthetics and ethics. Her first book ‘De L'Abject Et Du Sublime. Georges Bataille, Jean Genet, Samuel Beckett’ was published by Peter Lang in 2012. On Michel Houellebecq, she has recently published ‘Empowering Signs: Writing and e-motions in Michel Houellebecq’s Platform’ in Open Cultural Studies (2018).

From Social Distancing Towards an Ethics of Care in Michel Houellebecq’s Sérontine

Speaker: Françoise Campbell (IMLR)

In response to Catherine Millet’s observation that life in France’s lockdown bears a striking resemblance to the post-apocalyptic future of his 2005 novel La Possibilité d’une île, Michel Houellebecq remarked: “C’est exactement ce que j’avais en tête à l’époque […]. Des individus vivant isolés dans leurs cellules, sans contact physique avec leurs semblables, juste quelques échanges par ordinateur, allant décroissant”. This description of social distancing and mediation can in fact be read as the synopsis of any one of Houellebecq’s novels, which are notorious for their solitary male protagonists who struggle against the competition of the liberal market in contemporary France. However, alongside the representation of isolation, a considerably overlooked aspect of Houellebecq’s writing is the recurrent desire for human connection and mutual recognition. 

This presentation will explore these themes in Houellebecq’s most recent novel Sérotonine (2019) and his dys/utopian novels Les Particules élémentaires (1998) and La Possibilité d’une île (2005). To do so, I will begin by analysing the isolating forces of liberal society, as depicted through its physical spaces, uncomfortable social interactions and chemical substitutes. I will then consider the need for mutual recognition, or what ethicists such as Joan Tronto describe as an “ethics of care”, in the Houellebecquian universe, which I will trace through the representation of relationality and networks in the chosen texts. 

Françoise Campbell completed her PhD thesis on the ambivalence of utopia in Michel Houellebecq’s novels through a cotutelle programme between the University of Melbourne and l’Université Paris 7 Diderot. She has published articles in both French and English on utopia, ethics and subjectivity in Houellebecq’s writing, and has recently co-edited a special issue of French Cultural Studies on transgression in his oeuvre. Françoise is currently based at the IMLR, as a Visiting Fellow, where she is working on the representation of subjectivity and ideological ambivalence in contemporary French novels.

This free seminar will be held online, at 16:00 BST. Please note that it is essential that you register in advance to join the event. 

Download guidance on participating in an online event (pdf)


Cathy Collins
020 7862 8738